Prey for the Living
Credits: Louise Simonson (plot), Fabian Nicieza (script), Rob Liefeld (penciler), Hilary Barta (inker), Rick Parker (letters), Mike Rockwitz (colors)
Summary: The team follows Rictor into the Morlock Tunnels, as Caliban and Sabretooth continue their fight. When the team interferes, Sabretooth runs off with Rictor as a captive. Rictor discovers a new manifestation of his powers and frees himself from Sabretooth. Suddenly, Masque and the remaining Morlocks enter, demanding Sabretooth be left to their justice. Caliban returns, breaks Sabretooth’s back, and apparently kills him. The team returns home, although Caliban is determined that one day they must be tested. Later, Rictor secretly spies on Cable training in the Danger Room and develops a new respect for him.
- This issue marks Cable’s first meeting with Masque, although the rivalry between them doesn’t develop until the end of New Mutants’ run, after Cable takes Feral in.
- All of Calban’s talk of mutants being tested and prepared for the future comes from his association with Apocalypse, which defined the character during this era.
- Liefeld once again draws Caliban without a mouth, or even a lower jaw, for reasons I can’t begin to understand.
Creative Differences: When Rictor is recuperating at home, all of the dialogue between him and the team has been re-lettered. Their conversation simply reiterates Rictor’s insecurities in the Danger Room from the previous issue.
I Love the '90s: Boom-Boom refers to Cable as a “bohunk,” although I think that’s more specifically Nicieza slang than ‘90s slang. She later references her crush on Johnny Depp, a line that’s aged surprisingly well.
Review: Is this the first Liefeld/Nicieza in-your-face jam? I believe so. Louise Simonson has stated in interviews that Liefeld preferred Nicieza to her as writer on New Mutants, which eventually led to her departure, although I don’t know if Liefeld was openly campaigning for Nicieza at this point. If Nicieza wasn’t hired as the guest scripter this issue at Liefeld’s request, I’d be curious to know why Bob Harras selected him. Was it a case of hiring someone within the office who could get the job done on time, or did Harras always consider Nicieza a potential regular for the mutant titles? I have to admit that Nicieza’s script suits Liefeld’s sensibilities more than Simonson’s, although he is prone to some laughably melodramatic lines. (Caliban: “You can rake at me all you want with your claws and your barbaric fervor, Sabretooth -- but for one such as Caliban, who has weathered the agonies of physical reformation and the ravages of self-distress to find a purpose in life -- your mania is as unto a gentle breeze against a granite cliff!” All of this is said while Caliban lands one punch on Sabretooth, by the way.)
In terms of story, this doesn’t advance the ongoing MLF or Freedom Force plotlines one inch, nor is Cable given any shocking revelations this issue. The only lasting significance of the story would be Cable emotionlessly allowing the Morlocks to kill Sabretooth, which is a precursor to the cold-hearted, virtually amoral Cable that Liefeld and Nicieza’s X-Force will bring us. Of course, even at this stage, no one thought that Sabretooth was truly dead, so the mercilessness of Cable’s decision was already muted.
As for the art, this has to be Liefeld’s weakest issue yet. Hilary Barta doesn’t seem to know what to do with Liefeld’s pencils, as many pages are inconsistently inked with bold and thin lines, other pages have a manga influence, and some pages just look blurry. It’s hard to fault Barta’s work, though, considering that Liefeld’s influences are all over the place and it’s not as if anyone’s developed a standard method for inking his pencils. It’s possible that the inconsistent look of the title helped convince Bob Harras to allow Liefeld to ink his own pencils, which will create its own set of issues later on.